Sharon L Norris's Reviews > All Naked & Bare

All Naked & Bare by Janice Gallen
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it was amazing
bookshelves: australiana, historical
Recommended to Sharon L by: The author
Recommended for: Australian history buffs

Author Janice Gallen strips away the natural layers of the human psyche as it existed in restrained, ordered mid-1950s New South Wales until the individuals she writes about are literally as the title of her novel suggests – all naked and bare.

Hopes and dreams are dashed as the mining town of Merthyr Vale threatens to become a ghost town following the closure of its main employer, the coal mine. Once-close families are torn apart in the struggle to survive the post-mine gloom and doom. Marriages and friendships end, while avoiding salacious gossip is as busy a pastime as managing a household or proving one’s devotion to their church.

This is the situation facing the Carpenter family in late 1956. Chip and his adult sons Johnny, Charlie and Bobby suddenly find themselves looking for new careers as it becomes apparent the mine will close. Chip’s wife Polly puts up with his incessant drinking, which increases after he loses his job and finds work as a lesser-paid labourer, while she manages their home and raises their youngest child, pre-teen daughter Kathryn. When Johnny’s marriage ends and he heads south, taking Bobby and his wife Rachel and son Mervyn with him, Polly struggles as her seemingly close-knit family begins to fall apart. Further pressure comes as she struggles to deal with her mother’s clinically undiagnosed dementia, and fails to get any support from either of her self-obsessed sisters. Trapped by her mundane and ordered existence, Polly sinks into depression and resentment. She cannot fathom young Kathryn’s optimistic outlook on life or her devotion to books and learning, and ignores the fact her bright young daughter could one day reach for the stars that Polly herself could never have attained in her own upbringing.

This novel encapsulates post-war Australia so well as it documents the slide into economic depression that inevitably follows the post-war boom. Families rely on each other more and their neighbours as life changes around them, and not necessarily for the better. Drunken violence and social prejudices inflict unbelievable pain and suffering on their victims, while women are trapped in ingrained attitudes about home and hearth instead of intellectual satisfaction and a career. All the while, progress marches on around them in homes that become more reliant on modern appliances and less reliant on the very coal that built the foundations of their town and existence.

This novel tells a story that is confronting, disturbing, thought-provoking and ultimately enlightening as 1950s life, morality, prejudices and relationships are stripped back to be all naked and bare. It would be very interesting to follow the Carpenter family into the 1960s and see how the events and attitudes of a decade earlier may have changed them as time and progress marches on.
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Reading Progress

March 7, 2015 – Started Reading
March 8, 2015 – Shelved
March 8, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
March 8, 2015 – Shelved as: australiana
March 8, 2015 – Shelved as: historical
March 8, 2015 – Finished Reading

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